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Great Airmanship – Going Above and Beyond

Airmanship | July 23, 2015

Author: Brent Fishlock


On a recent flight, we were taxiing for take-off at a busy Canadian airport, which has two tower frequencies to separate runways. Checklists complete, we taxied within view of the threshold where two aircraft waited for take-off. There was a heavy aircraft on final perhaps 4 to 5 NM out, and the first aircraft was cleared for take-off. I noted to myself that there wasn’t a lot of room between the departing aircraft and the aircraft on final. After a few seconds, the person I was flying with said, “That aircraft might not have been cleared for take-off at our home base airport,” and I agreed.

The heavy aircraft on final continued and was now about three miles final. Just then, ATC came on tower frequency looking for an aircraft to respond; however, there was no response. Within seconds of that ATC call, Tower cleared the Dash 8 in front of us to line-up and wait. The person I was flying with and I looked at each other in shock. Luckily, the crew in the Dash looked first before moving the aircraft and responded with, “We will hold short for landing traffic.” The Tower controller thanked the crew and reissued the hold short clearance.

After the heavy aircraft landed, the Dash 8 took off, followed by us with no further incident. The investigation is ongoing, but this scenario brings up a litany of possible catastrophic outcomes. The good part of the story is that the crew who declined the line-up and wait clearance presumably had completed their checklists, were adhering to sterile cockpit procedures, and above all, were looking out the window when it was required. Making calls such as “clear left” or “clear right” when entering a runway are not usually found in an Operator’s SOPs, nor should they be, but they definitely fall under the category of good airmanship.

I think good airmanship should be called great airmanship. Great airmanship is a soft skill that we all have and demonstrate on a daily basis, but there is always room for improvement. Looking in the direction of your turn even though you are flying under ATC control and your ACAS/TCAS is functioning is an example of a great habit. Using proper radio techniques by using your complete call sign when communicating with ATC until you’re allowed to abbreviate it is another.

Regulator-operated occurrence registries are full of reports of taxi incidents, runway incursions, separation loss and more where a heightened level of airmanship may have made the difference. Follow your training, be a champion of your SOPs, and do the little things every time all the time—these are what make airmanship great.


Brent Fishlock is a technical advisor for Currently an airline pilot, he also has an extensive background in corporate aviation.

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